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Week 1 (2020)

Week of January 6, 2020 through January 10, 2020

United States v. Lockhart (Keenan 1/10/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that the magistrate judge’s failure to properly advise Lockhart of his Armed Career Criminal Act (AACA) exposure, together with the magistrate’s error in accepting Lockhart’s guilty plea based on a pre-Rehaif v. United States understanding of the law, in the aggregate were sufficient to undermine the previous proceeding. The Court vacated Lockhart’s guilty plea and conviction, and remanded the case for further proceedings. Full Opinion

Roe v. Department of Defense (Wynn 1/10/2020): The Fourth Circuit ruled that active-duty members of the Air Force who were discharged because of their status as HIV-positive were likely to succeed on their claims that their discharges were arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, and irrational, in violation of plaintiffs’ equal protection rights. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction to maintain the status quo while the plaintiffs challenged their discharges. Full Opinion

United States v. Sueiro (Floyd 1/09/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that it does not have subject-matter jurisdiction to consider Sueiro’s interlocutory appeal from the denial of a pretrial Faretta motion. In holding that the denial of a Faretta motion does not fall within the collateral order doctrine exception to the final judgment rule, the Court dismissed Sueiro’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Full Opinion

Ronnie Long v. Hooks (Richardson 1/8/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that the state court’s error in misstating the burden of proof for Brady v. Maryland claims in the state court’s summary conclusion did not entitle petitioner to habeas relief. The Court held the state court’s finding—that the cumulative effect of new evidence disclosed to petition thirty years after his trial was so minimal it would have had no impact on the outcome of his trial—was a reasonable finding and adequately supports the state court’s decision as required by Brady. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of the state’s motion for summary judgment. Full Opinion  

Friends of Buckingham v. State Air Pollution Control (Thacker 1/07/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board (“Board”) erred in granting a permit for construction of a compressor station in that the Board failed to consider electric turbines as zero-emission alternatives to gas-fired turbines in the compressor station, failed to assess the potential for disproportionate health impacts on the predominantly African-American community, and failed to independently evaluate the suitability of that site. Therefore, the Court vacated the permit and remanded to the Board. Full Opinion

Highlight Case

United States v. George

Decided: January 9, 2020

The Fourth Circuit concluded that the term “another person” in subsection 1028A(a)(1) of the federal aggravated identity theft statute includes deceased, in addition to living, victims of identity theft. Accordingly, the Court vacated the district court’s order allowing appellee to withdraw his guilty plea and dismissing the aggravated identity theft count, and remanded for resentencing.

Appellee George, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, unlawfully stayed in the United States following the expiration of his temporary visa in 1987. In 2013, George used the name, date of birth, and social security number of a deceased victim in an attempt to purchase a residence in North Carolina. In 2018, George was charged with false representation of a social security number and aggravated identity theft, and pleaded guilty to both counts. At George’s sentencing hearing in 2019, the district court granted his motion to withdraw his guilty plea as to the aggravated identity theft and dismissed the charge on the basis that the district court had previously ruled a deceased victim was not included in the offense provision at issue. 

The Court conducted a de novo review and reasoned that the term “person” in the aggravated identity offense could be defined much like the use of “person” in common parlance. The Court reasoned that the ordinary word “person” generally refers to both the living and dead because the adjectives “living” or “deceased” are added to the word to modify and narrow the general noun. In addition to looking at its plain, ordinary meaning, the Court looked at the term in the context of its neighboring statutory subsection and concluded the rule of lenity is not implicated here given the unambiguity of the term. Finally, although not necessary for its conclusion, the Court bolstered its interpretation by looking at the relevant legislative history. As a result, the Court held that subsection 1028A(a)(1) prohibits the unauthorized use of the means of identification of both deceased and living victims.

Full Opinion

Kate Heil